Sexual Harassment: Two Possible Scenarios, One #NotOkay

Let’s be clear about what sexual harassment is and is not.

Today I went to lunch with my husband. The male server was equally attentive to us both. He winked at me when I gave him my order. After we finished eating he cleared our plates and called me beautiful.

A few years ago my husband and I attended a holiday party with my coworkers. As guests arrived we shook hands with some and hugged others. The husband of a coworker took the opportunity to grab my ass when I hugged him.

The difference in these two scenarios is that I never felt threatened in any way by the server. He never touched me. He never said or did anything suggestive or offensive. My friend’s husband made me uncomfortable.  Shocked, hurt, and saddened by his actions, I refused to ever be alone with him again. His actions were uncalled for and unwelcome.

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For Orlando

I didn’t know about the tragedy when our daughter called to see if my husband was free to babysit her twin boys. She needed a sitter because she wanted to donate blood.

I heard my husband ask, “For Orlando?”

When he got off the phone, I asked, “What happened in Orlando?”

Details trickled in. Another shooting, 53 victims of gun violence reported at that time. And then the most chilling detail of all: a hate crime at a gay nightclub.  I let the truth settle in while I put the pieces together. Family members had just returned from a trip to Florida during pride month. This time the news was not about some other race, some other community, some other place. This time it was personal.

I should be sad or embarrassed or ashamed that the news has to be personal for me to want to get involved. Maybe it seems cold or uncaring. The truth is, I care too much. I can’t face all the bad news this world has to offer on a daily basis, so I retreat. I shake my head at the television and turn on a movie. Fictional characters with fictional problems that are often times all too real for me.

This time it was different. I scrolled through social media to get the framework of the story that was unfolding in Orlando. News of a local rally in support of Orlando and gay rights caught my attention. I imagined members of my family, gay and straight, who frequent gay nightclubs, in the same scenario as the victims. I let the truth sink in a little deeper. I texted my son to tell him I love him.

By the end of the day on Sunday, June 12th I willingly turned on the news to hear more, to my horror. A story of a mother who couldn’t find her son. Tales of survivors watching bodies drop all around them while they trench-crawled to safety.  One boy at the hospital, his friend still missing. And that mother.

I remembered that some of my family members had been to a gay nightclub in Orlando just a few years ago. Was it Pulse?

My friends, many of whom are fellow writers, posted their reactions on social media: no words. I had words. I could feel them boiling to the surface, wanting to be spoken. Some said it better than I could: it’s not about religion or guns; it’s about homophobia.

On Monday I called my daughter to check in. Our call got disconnected so I texted her to tell her I love her.

Then, I turned on the news to find that mother again. This time they found her son. He died on the floor of the nightclub.

“I would have gone in there and picked him up and carried him on my back if I had known,” she cried.

I can’t make sense of it. Should I rally? Donate blood? Go to a vigil? Write it all down?

Today, a fellow writer took a gift of hospitality to a visiting writer who is in town for a residency. A gift of caramel apple pie. The visiting writer brought the pie to my office to share with my coworker and me. The thoughtfulness and the kindness touched me deeper than it might have mere days ago.

I don’t know those other writers’ views on religion, or politics, or guns, or sexuality. But we could all be a little kinder. We could share a little more. We could all use some pie. And we could be grateful for those small acts.

Tonight I’ll turn on the news again. I’ll weep again for that mother who lost her son and for the 49 dead and 27 hospitalized. I’ll remember the kindness of strangers. I’ll hug my loved ones. And I’ll be thankful for the little things.

THE WOMAN WHO WALKS THROUGH MY NEIGHBORHOOD

This post was written in honor of #InternationalWomensDay and all the #workingwomen in the world.

I’m not sure when I first noticed the woman who walks through my neighborhood nearly every day, presumably from the bus stop at the main road to her employer’s house at the back of my neighborhood. I must have been in my car on my way to work. She stood out in my predominantly white neighborhood of drivers of SUVs and Volvos, walkers of strollers and dogs. She, a woman of color, walked alone.

She was bundled against the cold. I thought about how cold I was in my car, and how grateful I was to be driving to work instead of walking on that frigid day. I resisted the urge to stop and offer her a ride, worried that my offer might be offensive or that I might seem to think of myself as superior.

There is no shame in walking. I have passed by her when I took the dogs for a walk. I have seen her walking when I was sitting still at my dining room table, humiliated at my laziness. I’ve seen her trudge along determinedly in the heat and humidity while I work in my garden, thankful that I’ll soon finish and can return to the welcome air conditioning of my house. I wonder about her walking that mile in all kinds of weather. I worry about her.

The woman who walks through my neighborhood and I are always moving in opposite directions, but we are both anomalies. We are both working women who must do what we have to do to survive. We must move keep moving forward.